Scam Week – How Scammers Get Paid

When a scammer gets your money, it is usually gone for good.  There are many ways that scammers use to receive payments from their victims, and often they will use methods that are unusual, such as gift cards, bitcoin, or other currency substitutes.

Today I will describe the different payment methods, and what advantages they offer the scammer.  What a scammer or cyber-criminal  is looking for is a method of payment that is readily available, universally accepted, easy for the victim to acquire and use, non-refundable or non-reversible, and untraceable.

Paying Scammers

  • Credit Cards – This is good for you and bad for them.  Pay with credit cards whenever you can, because you have protections from fraudulent use with credit cards that you do not have with almost any other form of payment.  This includes situations where you voluntarily paid, and later changed your mind.  Scammers have stopped accepting credit cards because it is too easy for a victim to file a complaint with the card company and get the charges reversed.  If they don’t take credit cards, they are probably scammers.
  • Gift Cards – On the other hand, this is good for them and bad for you.  This form of payment has become popular with scammers.  I have personally seen gift cards used in “grandchild scams” and “utility scams.”  They are turning to gift cards because once they have the gift card numbers, the money is theirs and generally is not refundable or recoverable.  But think about this – why would your electric company want you to go to a store and buy an Amazon gift card to pay your bill?  Why won’t they take your credit card? (Our credit card system is down right now – really?).  Why would the police let you pay bail with an iTunes card?  Would the IRS want you to pay thousands in “back taxes” or “fines” with a Google Play card?  Really?  If it sounds stupid, it probably is a scam.  If they want you to pay with gift cards, they are probably scammers.
  • Cash – If your scam is happening face-to-face, cash is certainly a good option for the scammer.  This is typical of scams involving online sales of goods on eBay, Facebook, or other online marketplaces.  If you are meeting a stranger in person to pay for goods you bought online, set up the meeting for the parking lot at the police department.  There is usually good surveillance, and police are on hand should things get weird.  The choice of location may also scare off a scammer.  So if they won’t meet you there consider it a scam.
  • Checking  – Since stop payments can prevent a scammer from cashing out, checks are not usually accepted by scammers.  But if you are being paid by check for something you sold, beware!.  I once was selling a dining room set online hoping for a local buyer.  Got an email from a “buyer” in Florida who wanted the table and chairs and was going to send a truck to pick it up. This furniture was not remarkable or exceptionally valuable.  Sounded weird to me.  She offered to send me a “Cashier’s Check” for a lot more than I was asking, she wanted me to take my sale price and a bit extra for helping out, and send her a cashier’s check for the difference back to her.  The way this would work:  her check bounces, but yours goes through.  You are out the money you sent, and you still got the table and chairs.
  • EFT or Wire Transfer – Never pay a stranger directly from your bank account using electronic funds transfer or wire transfer.  And never, ever give your bank routing and account numbers to someone you don’t know without being absolutely positive they are legitimate.  Sure, this is how your employer sets up direct deposit.  I had a client who fell for a “tech support” scam on brand new computers.  The scammers wouldn’t take a credit card because credit card charges can be easily reversed, and asked them for their bank routing and account numbers.  My client had to close their account and open a brand new bank account to keep the scammers from taking more than their original fee at a later date.
  • Crypto-currency – If you are asked to pay in BitCoin, Monero, Etherium, or any of a myriad of crypto-currencies, you can be pretty sure that you are dealing with cyber-criminals.  This is typically how ransomware extortion is paid.  Crypto-currency does not fall into the “readily available, universally accepted, easy for the victim to acquire and use” description I posited earlier, but it does not provide a mechanism for reversal, and provides anonymity for the receiver of funds.

Now you know the types on payments that indicate you may be involved in a scam.  Hopefully, this will help you avoid falling for these scammers when they call on you.  On Friday, we wrap up Scam Week with a look at impersonation or impostor scams.

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About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

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